Death Don’t Have No Mer­cy is a very old, very dark blues by Rev. Gary Davis which has been cov­ered lot­s, by Dy­lan and the Dead among oth­er­s. But to­day I’m plug­ging a live ver­sion record­ed by Hot Tu­na in 1992.

Hot Tu­na are a very root­sy out­fit. For those who don’t know, they were the Jef­fer­san Air­plane fac­tion that didn’t go Star­ship­ping; gui­tarist/singer Jor­ma Kauko­nen and bassist Jack Casady. They play blues and coun­try and swing stuff, with a lot of ex­tend­ed gui­tar/bass break­s, al­ways sit­ting down.

This is on a live al­bum called Live At Sweet­wa­ter Two, and I saw them play more or less this set a few months be­fore they record­ed it. I was at an au­dio­phile con­ven­tion in Mi­a­mi (at the time I had a mi­nor gig free­lanc­ing for The Ab­so­lute Sound). Tu­na were play­ing this dark smoky bar in not the great­est part of Mi­ami, but it had re­al­ly great acous­tic­s. The mu­sic was so deep and or­gan­ic, I was en­tranced, loved ev­ery sec­ond of it.

Hot Tuna

What I re­mem­ber them look­ing like.

A ridicu­lous side­light; there were a bunch of drunk hosers at a stand-up bar be­hind where we were sit­ting, talk­ing about get­ting drunk, and this one dude was par­tic­u­lar­ly loud-voiced and ob­nox­ious, and at one point af­ter he’d talked through a qui­et song I leaped up, turned around, and hollered “YOU WANNA FUCKING WELL SHUT UP!?” Right in his face; I might have been drink­ing my­self. He want­ed to throw down but (thank good­ness) his drunk friends dragged him out; maybe they’d seen that movie be­fore. May have saved my life, he might have been pack­ing.

Any­how, like I said, Death Don’t Have No Mer­cy is dark, but this take isn’t, well yeah the words are, but it’s wrapped up in one of the nicest acoustic-blues in­stru­men­tal ac­com­pa­ni­ments ev­er record­ed, tak­en slow. Jor­ma sings nice­ly in a pleas­ing Amer­i­can bari­tone, and then his gui­tar, Jack’s bass, and Pete Sears’ pi­ano weave an un­hur­ried swing­ing sparkle around it, just ooz­ing blues and swing and bar­rel­house, it’s on­ly five min­utes long and I wish they’d kept go­ing three times as long.

Now, there are a lot of oth­er record­ings  —  iTunes has like a dozen by Hot Tu­na alone  —  and I don’t want to diss any of them, but this one is spe­cial to me, and I think it’ll please al­most any ear.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune on iTunes, Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy. There’s no live video that match­es this per­for­mance, but there’s a 1978 so­lo per­for­mance in dim grey, and again in 2014 with good pho­tog­ra­phy. And here’s a bonus, an old video of Rev. Gary Davis do­ing his own tune, very hard-core.


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February 16, 2018
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